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Cybermania: How do you spell cyber... everything?

Have you noticed some new words showing up in magazines and newspapers around the country? Words like: cyberattack, cyberwar , cybercrime and cyber... whatever.

Have you noticed some new words showing up in magazines and newspapers around the country? Words like: cyberattack, cyberwar , cybercrime and cyber…. whatever.

This brings up an interesting question: How do you spell cyber… anything? While this may seem like a trivial topic, I do think it matters.

At first glance, spelling cyber just seems all over the map. For example, many people still use two words for Cyber Security. Some still use a dash: Cyber-Security.  But more and more articles and books are moving to just one word with a small “s” in the middle – Cybersecurity.

The single word has become the norm in Washington D.C. in government circles – including the White House, Washington Post and other news outlets. Even foreign conventions are starting to combine cyber words.

Another option is to drop “security” altogether and just use the word cyber instead of cybersecurity in some cases. This trend may allow for even more merging of words. For example, “Cyber Security Threat” becomes “Cyber Threat” and eventually we have “Cyberthreat.”     

Many people have been using the word cyberspace for years. The term can have multiple meanings, but is often used interchangeably with the Internet or the World Wide Web. And yet, other cyber words are evolving within the English (or American-English) language.

If you type in “cyberattack” in Google, you will be asked if you meant to add a space (two words). But interestingly enough, the search results are very different with the space in between. The single word “cyberattack” yields 1.2 million page views, but the two words “cyber attack” yield about 10.5 million page views. More importantly, the top results are very different on these two searches.  These different results can come from different spellings of cyber within headlines, books and articles. 

Yes - Spelling Does Matter

So why should we care? Are we witnessing a new “cybermania?” Perhaps.

The “cyber” word is showing up everywhere. We now have cyberbullies, cybercars and more. Just adding “cyber” out front is hot - almost the new “e” from a decade ago. We used to hear a lot more about “e-government” and “e-everything.” Over time, that terminology became less popular. As we now talk about mobile government. Nevertheless, e-government is still widely used today.

Moving forward, as more areas of society use the Internet, mobile apps and technology, there will be a security component to all these new topics that some call the consumerization of technology. The word “cyber” out front could become the new normal for an ever-growing list of security solutions within technology topics – or just another way of implying "computer-oriented." I suspect we will be seeing more cyberpets, cyberpower and even cybersports in virtual worlds. This may make the security-focused link confusing.

I also believe there is a growing specialization in the various fields of cybersecurity. The new words are a reflection of entirely new industries in specialized security categories – almost like the medical areas where doctors specialize in specific topics. For example, cyberdefense or cyberwar can be considered sub-areas within cybersecurity. That’s right – our new cyber language is telling us about future job opportunities for our teenagers - so take note when you hear new cyber words.

Pragmatic Cyber

 Beyond technology trends and the evolution of the American (and English) vocabulary, spelling matters for reasons like school spelling bees and computer spell checkers which put little red lines under cyber-words. Our spelling also shows how we talk about various topics and how these new terms are interrelated.

As a practical matter, I recommend trying multiple spellings when researching various “cyber-security” topics. I find very different results by separating-out the word cyber or combing the word cyber with other words or adding a dash.

And yes, this topic does come up in the daily life of a chief security officer. When we were building our Michigan Cyber Initiative document last year, we debated on how to spell “cybersecurity.” Should we spell out the two words: “Cyber” and “Security” in the title? Or, should we combine them into one word: Cybersecurity? Or, what?

 In the end, the word “Cyber” won out and stood alone to best capture our meaning, since combining cyber words seems to be the new normal.

What we later found interesting was that our document didn’t come up (as a first page choice) within a Google search when looking for “State Cybersecurity Initiatives.” We did some Search Engine Optimization (SEO) work and got that fixed.

So, how do you spell cyber?

Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.